Holes patched in Russian segment of the ISS though pesky pressure loss continues

Space: Not all its cracked up to be

Bad news for astronauts and cosmonauts alike: The International Space Station (ISS) is continuing to lose pressure after Russian attempts to patch cracks in the outpost's hole have failed to stem leaks.

Leaks in the Zvezda service module of the Russian segment of the ISS have plagued the laboratory over the last year. One leak was patched last year and pair of new ones cropped up in January.

Earlier this month, Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov got cracking with the sealing paste to staunch the flow of air from the module before closing the Transfer Chamber hatch in order to conduct a pressure level check.

Although Roscosmos, perhaps prematurely, proclaimed the repair works as "completed", Sputnik International reported a chat between Ryzhikov and the Mission Control Center for the Russian segment on Saturday to the effect that pressure in the chamber was still dropping.

To be clear, at its current rate, the leak does not pose a serious risk to the ISS crew.

Anatoly Zak, author of Russia in Space and creator of RussianSpaceWeb.com, told The Register that, as he understood it, "the leak is continuing and there are probably multiple hairline cracks in the PrK chamber (a part of the Zvezda module) which are very difficult to find."

"The problem," he said, "has to be resolved and it has to be well understood, because those cracks might be propagating. This is very serious, as it can potentially take the PrK chamber out of commission and has implications for the entire Zvezda module."

As it stands, the ISS cannot function without the Zvezda module.

The problems come on the 35th anniversary of the first mission to the Soviet Mir space station, which featured cosmonaut Vladimir Solovyov, now responsible for the Russian segment of the ISS. The Zvezda module itself has its roots in the Mir programme, initially starting life as part of Mir 2 before being repurposed for the ISS.

It was the third major ISS component, launched in 2000 and connected to the Zarya module (which was also connected to the US Unity module). The sheer age of the structure has led some to worry about the potential for metal fatigue, although policymakers remain hopeful that the ISS will endure for a fair while yet. In 2019, ESA's Ministerial Council stated that it would "continue our commitment to the International Space Station until 2030."

Assuming, of course, that those cracks continue to be patched and don't develop into anything more serious.

The Register contacted Roscosmos for its take on things, but the agency has yet to respond. ®

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